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William Saliba impresses for France but all eyes on English officials as Netherlands denied - Euro 2024 hits and misses

Plus: Austria amaze with another dynamic display in beating Poland, while Ukraine summon an emotional comeback to reward their supporters...

21 June 2024, Saxony, Leipzig: Soccer, UEFA Euro 2024, European Championship, Netherlands - France, Preliminary round, Group D, Matchday 2, Leipzig Stadion, Xavi Simons of the Netherlands reacts after his goal is disallowed.
Image: Xavi Simons looks on in disbelief after discovering that his goal has been disallowed

Offside decision puts spotlight back on officials

Euro 2024 has been remarkably free from officiating debate let alone controversy, a flick of Lois Openda's hand being the chief cause for chatter. That changed on Friday evening and many will be amused that an English officiating team found itself at the centre of it.

The uneasy delays, the frantic glances, the interminable wait, the total lack of clarity. That familiar Premier League feeling returned as Anthony Taylor held his ear piece, awaiting Stuart Attwell's verdict. It was almost enough to make you feel nostalgic.

Virgil van Dijk of the Netherlands protest to the referee Anthony Taylor
Image: Virgil van Dijk of the Netherlands protests a decision by the referee Anthony Taylor

Experts on the Laws of the Game may well tell us that the decision to rule out Xavi Simons' strike into the corner of Mike Maignan's net was correct on the grounds that the goalkeeper had spotted the presence of Denzel Dumfries in an offside position.

Those more familiar with watching football than reading rules might nevertheless conclude that Maignan would have been unlikely to tag Dumfries let alone the ball that was bound for his goal regardless. Diving for it was a thought barely formed in his brain.

That the decision fell to Taylor and co was a mere unhappy coincidence, in truth - and at least the consequences of the call are likely to be relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of the tournament, unless you happen to be a particularly optimistic Pole.

Let us hope that this little Group D moment was as controversial as the officiating will get at Euro 2024 and the next three weeks continue to play out serenely amid scenes of swift semi-automated bliss. Not convinced? Me neither.
Adam Bate

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Saliba shines | More to come from France

William Saliba of France heads the ball as Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands pushes him during a Group D match between the Netherlands and France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Leipzig, Germany, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Image: William Saliba was in imperious form once more for France at Euro 2024

Two games in for France and, thanks to that highly-debatable offside call against the Netherlands, two clean sheets for the tournament favourites. Arsenal's William Saliba has been a big factor in that, oozing class in the centre of the France defence.

An ideal foil for the physical Dayot Upamecano, those much-publicised comments by Didier Deschamps alluding to weaknesses in Saliba's game only become more baffling after each performance. There cannot be many better defenders in European football.

What is striking is how easy he makes it all look, a defender whose contribution does not necessarily always show up in the statistics. For instance, he did not make a single tackle. But he did not need to. He kept the ball with 86 of his 87 passes in the match.

William Saliba completed 86 of his 87 passes for France against the Netherlands
Image: William Saliba completed 86 of his 87 passes for France against the Netherlands

The underlying numbers better reflect France's control than that Xavi Simons moment. Against Austria, they registered an expected-goals total of 2.13 compared to their opponents' 0.76. Here, their total was 1.42 compared to their opponents' paltry 0.33.

At the other end, the goals will surely start flowing soon. Even without Kylian Mbappe, they created chances. Antoine Griezmann should have scored at least one, twice failing to find the finish from close range. One goal from two games does not tell the full story.

Either side of Saliba and Upamecano, the full-backs are rock solid and N'Golo Kante as impressive as ever in midfield. The forward players have not fired yet but the options in attack are plentiful. Expect Mbappe to have his day when the stakes are a little higher.

That might seem a generous appraisal after four points from two games - the same as England. But this side appears happier in its skin. Saliba has won over Deschamps. It would not be a surprise if the rest of France has followed suit by mid-July in Berlin.
Adam Bate

Amazing Austria are ones to watch

Austria's Marko Arnautovic celebrates after scoring his side's third goal from the penalty spot

Austria had a place in many analysts' Euro 2024 'dark horses' picks. You can definitely see why after their latest display.

Ralf Rangnick's side picked up their first win against Poland but did so in a very attractive style.

Full-backs Stefan Posch and Philipp Mwene were arguably their best sources of attack. Sitting midfielders Nicolas Seiwald and Konrad Laimer generated some of their best chances of the game. Poland's defence could not deal with Christoph Baumgartner and Marcel Sabitzer's running and work in the half spaces.


Now Austria stand on the brink of the knockout rounds and face a big game against the Netherlands to seal their place.

Getting second place could be crucial as it could be England in the first knockout round if they finish third. But looking at how both teams are playing, would that be so bad?
Sam Blitz

Emotional Ukraine deserve this moment

Roman Yaremchuk is mobbed by his team-mates after giving Ukraine a late lead against Slovakia

After Monday's shock loss to Romania - a team 23 places below them in the world rankings - Ukraine knew they had to respond against Slovakia to have a realistic chance of reaching the last 16, but they were disappointing in the first half even though they created several chances.

Despite their below-par performance, Rebrov's decision to drop Real Madrid goalkeeper Lunin was an inspired one, with replacement Trubin making four fine saves which suggested he should have been his country's No 1 in the first place.

The Benfica stopper kept his side in the match before Mudryk, who initially struggled to make an impact, began to grow in confidence. The Chelsea winger played an instrumental role in Ukraine's equaliser and was unlucky not to score himself before being substituted with five minutes remaining.

By that time, he had already been involved in wild celebrations after substitute Yaremchuk produced a spectacular touch and finish to get Ukraine's tournament up and running.

The winner saw Yaremchuk break down in tears and earn a kiss on the head from Zinchenko before the emotional scenes continued when the players applauded their supporters inside the Dusseldorf Arena after the final whistle.

Of course, many more Ukrainians will be watching around the world and while it won't change the heartbreaking situation back home, their first comeback win at the Euros since 2012 will hopefully bring some joy to those who need it most.
Dan Sansom

Poland lose again to assume unwanted status as first nation out

Poland's Robert Lewandowski enters the pitch

Robert Lewandowski's absence due to a thigh injury was felt in Poland's opening defeat to the Netherlands - and Austria must've been licking their lips when team news dropped on Friday night and they saw the talisman was, once again, not spearheading the attack.

It likely provided something of a mental boost for Ralf Rangnick's men, who started like a house on fire in Berlin and scored the early goal that set the tone for the rest of the evening.

In truth, there wasn't really a certain point where they were crying out for Lewandowski; for the second game in succession, a player deputising for him scored. It was Adam Buksa in the first game, Krzysztof Piatek in the second.

And when the Barcelona striker did come on, he had just 11 touches in around 34 minutes anyway.

As the case had been against the Dutch, it wasn't that Poland were bad on the night, it was just that Austria were better. Rangnick has got them looking like a team with real promise; one to keep a very close eye on.

There were signs of Polish promise, certainly, but they mean nothing now. The fact the Netherlands and France played out a goalless draw later on in the evening means Poland are the first nation to exit the tournament. They are by no means a one-man team, but would an earlier introduction for Lewandowski have made the difference? We'll never know.
Dan Long

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